Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Paper Training

In the early 1990s, I had an office job in downtown Detroit. One morning, a coworker (I’ll call her Betty) came in all excited. “Did you hear?” she gushed, “They caught the Loch Ness monster??!!”

“Really?” I replied cautiously, “I read the paper this morning and I didn’t see anything about it. I’d think something like that would be on the front page.”

“Well it’s true!” she declared, with the pride of one who has broken a major news story. Betty described how she’d stopped at the grocery store on the main floor of our building and had seen the article right on the front page. Having no direct information to the contrary, I resisted the urge to argue the matter – but my spidey-sense was tingling pretty strongly at that point, so I quickly slipped out of the office and took the elevator down to the main floor.

There, next to the checkout stand, was an enormous headline reading something like, “LOCH NESS MONSTER CAPTURED!” accompanied by what seemed to be a photograph of the creature itself. All of this was right there to be seen on the cover of the current edition of the Weekly World News.

OK. That changed everything. According to Wikipedia, the Weekly World News was published from 1979 to 2007. The Wikipedia entry is accompanied by a reproduction of one of their front pages from 2005. The headline reads “GARDEN OF EDEN FOUND! – U.S. grows new tree from seed – Original Apple Recovered!”

I think you get the picture. Utter garbage, bereft of any sort of journalistic integrity. To even invoke the term ‘journalistic’ when discussing the Weekly World News is akin to invoking the term ‘altruistic’ when discussing the molecular structure of hydrocarbons – the two concepts are just fundamentally unrelated.

In that moment, something kind of magical crystallized into reality. I mean, I’d always known in theory that there were people who believed what they read in the supermarket tabloids – people who did not distinguish between what they read there and what they read in any other newspaper. But it’s one thing to assume such people exist; it’s quite another to find out that someone you talk to every day is one of them. I found myself in the grip of an odd combination of emotions – it was a very amusing state of affairs, yet simultaneously kind of depressing.

And let’s please not have a discussion about the integrity of “regular” newspapers. Their skewed perspectives and often dubious priorities are well known to me. But please – let’s not pretend there isn’t a difference between regular newspapers and the Weekly World News. And let’s at least agree that Betty needs to make a trip to the Brain Bank and cash a hefty Reality Check.

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